16th Annual Meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC16)
ASSC16, was hosted by the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex from June 30 until July 7, 2012. It took place in The Brighton Dome and Corn Exchange, in the heart of the city.
The annual ASSC meetings have long been a prominent forum for the dissemination, discussion, and advancement of empirical and conceptual studies of consciousness; ASSC16 continued firmly in this tradition. Now in its 16th year, the science of consciousness while still young, is no longer new. This growing maturity is reflected both by an effective reaching out to other more established disciplines, and by an increasing delivery on its own core questions concerning the nature, biological basis, and functions of consciousness, in health and in disease. While no-one would claim that the mystery of consciousness is yet solved, it is increasingly evident that much progress is being made and there seems every reason to be optimistic. Equally important is that developments in consciousness science are now yielding clinical insights of real practical importance across a wide range of neurological and psychiatric conditions. A true test of the value of science is its ability to enhance the human condition and the study of consciousness is now contributing here as well. The scientific content of ASSC16, and the discussions it fostered, well reflected these advances.
ASSC16 was extremely successful, with many participants considering it the best ASSC in the history of the meetings. The main academic meeting (July 2-6) attracted 505 participants who collectively submitted 403 abstracts, setting new records for ASSC meetings by some distance. The scientific content was divided among keynote lectures, plenary symposia, concurrent talk sessions, and poster sessions. Attendees were drawn from students, researchers, faculty, as well as the interested media and public. The participation was truly international in scope. The academic content of the meeting was extremely impressive, combining breadth and depth, and has already been reported in prestigious outlets such as Nature, New Scientist, and The Guardian (links below).
Sackler Centre research was particularly well represented at the meeting, with Sackler researchers presenting 19 separate research projects, many of which were highlighted by the New Scientist (see below). More than 50 student volunteers drawn from a variety of departments helped at the meeting, allowing them to interact with researchers and experience consciousness science at its exciting frontiers and helping shape the next generation of consciousness researchers. Overall, both the scientific reputation and name recognition of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science was significantly enhanced by successfully hosting ASSC16.
Continuing the ASSC tradition, many events were organized by and for the student body. There were two social evenings, a poster competition, and perhaps most usefully a ‘mentor lunch’ at which about 40 students sat down with senior researchers, in small groups, to discuss both research and the practical business of pursuing an academic career.
Delegates were particularly impressed with the venue and overall organization of ASSC, with the environment of Dome and Corn Exchange complex significantly improving upon most academic conference venues. Having the conference in the city centre proved to be a popular decision for participants, fostering a sense of excitement and engagement throughout the week.
ASSC16 introduced several innovations. We took advantage of social network media, with a dedicated Facebook page, an ASSC blog/forum, and a widely used Twitter tag (#ASSC16); many sessions were live-tweeted and twitter feeds were displayed prominently throughout the meeting. We are collating a database of #ASSC16 tweets in order to assess the ongoing impact of the meeting. Perhaps more importantly, ASSC16 reached out beyond the academic community to actively involve and engage the wider public. Halfway through the meeting this public engagement took the form of an informal ‘consciousness salon’ with Prof. Peter Naish, but by far the greatest effort was focused on a unique 1-day ‘consciousness expo’ event, State of Mind (www.consciousnessexpo.co.uk). This event took place on June 30th in the Corn Exchange and attracted more than 1800 members of the public of all ages and backgrounds within its 7 hours of opening. The expo featured an interactive showcase of new technologies exploiting and exploring many aspects of consciousness, perception, and human experience. As well as interactive exhibits, there were short talk sessions on creativity, art and neuroscience, and consciousness science, as well as ‘pop-up cinema’ events and real experiments in which people could take part. About 40 student volunteers, abetted by Sackler Centre faculty and researchers, ensured that attendees came away both enlightened and engaged. The event proved extremely popular and many more could have attended given more time; at one stage people were queueing around the block hoping to gain admittance. As an example of ‘widening participation’ with respect to cutting-edge science, the Expo must be regarded as a resounding success. A short video of the event can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/45527207.
All in all, ASSC16 more than lived up to its objective of being a citywide celebration of consciousness science. We look forward to future ASSCs with optimism.
ASSC16: Continue the conversation
ASSC16: Media coverage (as of 12 July 2012):